A prophet no more? Jeffs called himself a 'sinner' in jailhouse conversation

Deseret Morning News, Utah/March 27, 2007
By Ben Winslow

St. George — Warren Jeffs has reportedly renounced his title as "prophet" of the Fundamentalist LDS Church in a jailhouse conversation with one of his brothers.

Warren Jeffs appears at a preliminary hearing on Nov. 21, 2006, in St. George, where he was charged with rape as an accomplice.

"He said he is the greatest of all sinners and, in so many words, worked his way to be the leader and prophet when he knew he wasn't called of God to be a prophet," a law enforcement source familiar with the conversation told the Deseret Morning News.

Jeffs, 51, made the comments during a January conversation with his brother, Nephi Jeffs, who has visited him in the Purgatory Jail in Hurricane. The conversation was recorded by jail officials, who monitor most of the FLDS leader's phone calls and visits.

A tape is reportedly in the hands of the Washington County attorney, who is prosecuting Jeffs on charges of rape as an accomplice, a first-degree felony. He is accused of performing a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her older cousin.

A hearing is scheduled for today in 5th District Court on a series of motions filed by Jeffs' defense team, including a request to move the trial out of St. George.

The tape is considered evidence in the growing criminal cases against Jeffs and is not expected to be made public unless it is played in court. The source, who did not want to be identified, said law enforcement agencies in Utah and Arizona involved in the Jeffs cases had been briefed on it.

"I cannot confirm or deny that," Gary Engels, an investigator with the Mohave County Attorney's Office, said Monday.

Both the Washington County Sheriff's Office and the Washington County attorney refused to comment on any jailhouse conversations Jeffs has had or the existence of any tapes. The Utah Attorney General's Office also would not comment.

"I don't have any comment," Jeffs' defense attorney, Walter Bugden Jr., said Monday.

Jeffs reportedly asked his brother to distribute news of the conversation to people in the FLDS enclaves of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz. However, the source said Jeffs later sent word to his brother saying he had changed his mind.

"The people of Hildale and Colorado City have a right to know," the source said, explaining why the carefully guarded information was being disclosed. "Three cops are being decertified because of their loyalty to him. People are still trying to repent from a distance. Don't they have a right to know?"

After his father's death in 2002, Jeffs became leader of the FLDS Church. Then, dozens of people were ousted from the polygamous sect. Men who were kicked out had their wives and children reassigned to other men.

When Jeffs was charged, federal prosecutors allege he was on the run as a fugitive. He was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list when he was arrested during a traffic stop outside Las Vegas in August 2006.

In January, Jeffs was rushed to the hospital after suffering an undisclosed medical problem. At the time, Washington County sheriff's deputies said Jeffs underwent a series of tests and was cleared to return to the Purgatory Jail. They have refused to say what Jeffs suffered from, citing medical privacy laws.

In February, a closed-door hearing was held with 5th District Judge James Shumate. A court docket said the hearing requested "confidential and privileged physician contact." A transcript of the hearing was filed under seal.

Jeffs is being kept in administrative segregation at the jail, where he is allowed to make phone calls and receive visitors for about an hour a day.

Meanwhile, Jeffs' attorneys will argue today that the FLDS leader's upcoming trial should be moved from St. George to Salt Lake County. Citing pre-trial publicity, Jeffs' defense team commissioned a poll to bolster their claim that the FLDS leader cannot get a fair trial in Washington County.

Nephi Jeffs watches as his brother, Warren Jeffs, appears in a courtroom in Las Vegas on Aug. 31, 2006. Warren Jeffs was returned to Utah for trial and is being held in the Purgatory Jail in Hurricane. "Given 24-hour cable news programming, Internet access, radio and newspaper coverage, there is no 'place far enough away where such influence would be a negligible factor if present at all,"' Washington County Attorney Brock Belnap wrote in a response filed in 5th District Court.

In other motions the judge is being asked to consider today, defense attorneys are asking that Utah's rape-as-an-accomplice law be declared "unconstitutionally vague" and for the order binding Jeffs over for trial to be quashed.

During a preliminary hearing in November, defense attorneys got the alleged victim — identified only as "Jane Doe IV" — to acknowledge she never explicitly said she was raped.

Prosecutors said the victim expressed her lack of consent through words and conduct.

"The victim's words and conduct clearly expressed that she did not even want to touch her purported husband — let alone engage in intimate sexual contact," Belnap wrote.

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